Why Aren’t Writers Paid Better?

Posted on 07 January 2022

This was a question put to people in an online writers group I am subscribed to. Below is my answer.

Artists sit in an odd space where they are both loved and hated.

They can lift us out of our daily struggles, soothe our trembling hearts, say the things we want to say, shine a light on what is good and what is bad in the world, and provide visions of the future.

They are hated because they reveal our dark sides, point out wrongdoing, have influence over how people think and feel, are doing what they love rather than slaving away at a thankless job, they seemingly skip the queue for wealth and status through fame, and they get the attention others want.

Artists are often treated as enemies of the state. They can also be treated as enemies of the people for stripping away the lie that if you just work hard and not make waves, you will have a secure if not exactly happy life. Artists often stir up self-reflection and many people don’t like themselves or their lives enough to withstand this.

All of this adds up to artists being a class of people others want to control. These controllers want to either use artistry for their own benefit, or severely constrain art to what is “safe”. Keeping a class of people seriously insecure, while offering up a few safe examples of their people who have made it big, is a good way to do this.

This causes people to emulate the current stars of their art form, hoping that with hard work and not making waves, they too can do what they love while being rich and famous. Does this have a familiar ring? Artists also end up competing with one another, tearing each other apart in jealousy, rather than cooperating and supporting one another. After all only a few can achieve the extreme pinnacle that corporate media makes possible.

There are things that can be done, but they require we as artists see ourselves with more humility, that we work hard to help create culture change, and that we participate in politics. And I’m sure just saying that is making people feel nervous. Writers especially can be conflict averse. This doesn’t have to be about conflict, it can be about caring. Even so, some people will be angry with you for defending the poor for instance.

What can I say? Please take what courage you found to be an artist and use it wisely and well.

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